When Sofia Kenin was double-bageled three weeks ago by Victoria Azarenka in her only claycourt match in the build-up to the French Open her prospects looked as gloomy as the weather at Roland Garros this past fortnight.
That 6-0 6-0 defeat in Rome simply gave the 21-year-old American another problem to solve though — something she does better than most on a tennis court.
On Thursday, against big-hitting Czech Petra Kvitova who she had never beaten, Kenin showed incredible control in a gusting wind to claim a 6-4 7-5 victory and reach the French Open final.
“Definitely, I’m a problem solver. You obviously have to expect tough situations. It’s a tennis match. You know your opponent wants to win. They want to find your weakness. Of course, you got to be smart,” Kenin, who won this year’s Australian Open, told reporters.
“I obviously like it not to get too crazy with the scoreline and everything. I prefer to be going easy, but obviously cannot expect that in a semi-final. I’m not going to have a 6-0 6-0 win, especially against Petra.”
Kenin absorbed everything Kvitova threw at her in a performance of real maturity on a surface she admits has been a bit of a puzzle.
“In juniors, clay was not my strongest surface. I felt underpowered. I couldn’t control the points. I didn’t have great movement. It was a bit of a struggle,” the fourth seed said.
“I did not have the best result in Rome and I could feel clay was not there for me. But I knew that it just takes a few matches to get a nice groove in. I know how to adjust to the surface. So I’m loving the clay.”
Fellow American Chris Evert, a seven-times French Open champion, told Eurosport she has seen few players match the hunger and intensity of Kenin who was a bundle of energy against Kvitova.
Kenin, who describes herself as feisty, now just has one more problem to solve when she takes on 19-year-old Pole Iga Swiatek, who has dropped only 23 games, in Saturday’s final.
Their only other match was in the French Open juniors third round in 2016 when Swiatek won in straight sets.
“I have to figure out what she does,” Kenin said. “I’m sure she has a lot of confidence and is super excited for the final.
“I obviously want to make the next step. Really would love to take the title. We’ll see how it’s going to go on Saturday.”